SSLYBY: To Russia With Love



High School Bands Unite

 Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin hails from Springfield,  Missouri. They’re a pop-indie band whose musical creativity and uniqueness is matched by their band name itself. Formed in 1999, the band started by writing, playing, and recording in their houses until releasing their debut album Broom in 2005.

“I started my first band when I was fourteen,” Will Knauer, songwriter and lead guitarist recalls.  “I was just about to start high school, so my band practiced every day through high school. Maybe my junior or senior year, I met Phil [Dickey; songwriter, vocalist, guitarist] and he also had a high school band and we just became really good friends. The bands kind of joined together to form SSLYBY.”

First Album Birthed Just Messing Around

Their first album was not professionally produced or recorded. It was a product of messing around with recording equipment and instruments in Will’s house. Yet,  the album quickly received buzz, going viral on MySpace. This caught the band off-guard. They had mainly recorded the album for fun, with no pressure or expectations. It was just an album for themselves and for their friends and family. Will describes that time as full of “raw innocence.” He recalls, “Now, if we tried to do that again, you can’t really do it because you’d be trying not to try. It’s kind of impossible to capture moments like that again.” The raw, less-produced quality of the album makes for a very genuine album for fans to connect with. And, one of those fans was Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie.

Chris Walla: Fan to Producer

Walla reached out to SSLYBY and took them under his wing. He started coming to their shows and inviting them backstage at his own. When it came time to record their album Let It Sway, he was eager to produce the album. To this day, the band still works with Walla, recording their most recent album The High Country in his recording studio, the legendary Hall of Justice in Seattle. Will Knauer jokingly described Walla as the “fairy godmother” to indie bands. “He was in a position to help out a lot of bands and he always had his ear to the ground.  If he saw bands that stuck out to him, he would reach out to them and really help them.”

“Let it Sway” Captures Live Performance Elements

With Chris Walla’s production on Let It Sway came a change in SSLYBY’s sound in which Walla was able to capture the band’s energy and raw magnetism in their live performance and transfer it to a recording. The core elements of the songs – guitar, bass, drums – were all recorded live together and then additional parts and sounds were added afterward.

“The High Country” Continues Raw and Hard Flavor

The band, SSLYBY has kept this dynamic with their most recent album, taking it to its next progression. The High Country highlights the band “playing raw and hard together like our live shows,” Will informs. “When we went to the studio, we captured that feeling of us playing together but instead of decorating the songs as much with additional stuff, we kind of left them a little more bare this time, a little more exposed like what it sounds like with us just playing together…. It felt good to go crazy a little bit.”

The High Country is full of up-tempo catchy songs, opening with the irresistible “Line On You” and grooving through eleven short and sweet songs from ballads like “Madeleine” to the punk-rock “Song Will.” Will says this is one of his favorite songs to play live because it is “one crazy burst of sound and emotion and you are in the moment so much while you are playing it because you have to play it so fast and so hard.”

European Fans Love Pleasantly Surprise Band

SSLYBY is known for their great live energy. The band has played over 600 shows, including a couple of tours in Europe. Will says a particular show in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, stood out in his mind. He recalls it as a surreal experience. “It was packed and they were all singing along to our songs in English. That was really awesome to have that connection with people. Even though the cultures are so different, you still connect with this one thing and share this moment together.”

SSLYBY was named after Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Soviet Russian President. Therefore, the band was overwhelmed when they were able to play in Russia. In fact, they were named Cultural Ambassadors to Russia by the US Consulate in Russia. Furthermore, they were the first American band to headline the Old New Rock Festival. They were also able to meet friends of Boris Yeltsin. Will recounts, “they actually were kind of proud of us for keeping his name alive and exposing people in America to Boris Yeltsin.”

SSLYBY’s Unexpected Self Description

Even with all their tours, well-received albums, and recognition, Will is humble when discussing their success. He describes SSLYBY as “a bit dysfunctional” and “kind of dorks, to be honest.”  He swears, “We’ve never quite known what we were doing.”  Over the years, the band’s configuration has changed. Longtime member John Robert Cardwell left the band and Tom Hembree joined. With this change, Will stepped up to the plate. He contributed more at a time when the band was questioning whether they should keep going. But Will isn’t taking credit. Instead, he jokes that he has “taken the band down a dark alley.” He laughs “If anyone needs to blame the band’s current sound, I’d be happy to take the blame.”

But no blame need be placed – SSLYBY has hit their stride with The High Country and they are only headed for more success. Their albums can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and Stay tuned for some upcoming content as SSLYBY label Polyvinyl celebrates its 20th anniversary.


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